Screaming toddlers, scary toilets and insanely cramped aisles — when it comes to comfort, airplanes leave much to be desired. Yet arguably the most dreaded aspect of the in-flight experience is the food. Google “plane food” and the first links that show up are all variations of “Why does plane food taste so bad?”

No, you’ll probably never wake up craving a Delta Airlines breakfast wrap, but, as foodies we must make the best of a bad situation. With that spirit, I’m break downing the menus by airline, so that next time you’re traveling, you can factor in how good their meals are when deciding who to fly with.

1. American Airlines


Photo by Stacy Spensley

Selection variety: AA offers a chicken Cobb sandwich, a fruit and cheese plate and a chicken Caesar salad. I’m not sure what vegetarians are supposed to eat, since a fruit and cheese plate is more hors d’oeuvre than whole meal. Maybe two fruit and cheese plates for veg-heads.

Healthiness: Lots of cheese and dressing, and a suspicious lack of fresh veggies or whole grains make for a less-than-stellar combo.

Creativity: Pretty non-existent.

Overall grade: 2/5

2. Southwest Airlines


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Selection variety: Southwest offers peanuts, pretzels and… oh wait, that’s all they offer.

Healthiness: Peanuts have lots of healthy fats. Pretzels have about zero nutritional value. Together, it’s a wash.

Creativity: “Peanuts,” “pretzels” and “creativity” don’t belong in the same sentence.

Overall grade: 0.5/5

3. Delta Airlines


Photo by Bernard Wen

Selection variety: Available for purchase is a smoked turkey bagel sandwich, a cracked pepper turkey sandwich, a London broil fajita wrap and a chicken slider combo. Not too shabby, although once again, I’m left wondering, “where my non-meat meals at??”

Healthiness: Okay, you’re definitely not going to shed any pounds on the Delta Diet. Their main food groups seem to be refined carbs (in the form of white bread), cream cheese (it’s in virtually every choice) and mayonnaise.

Creativity: Compared to the other airlines, Delta’s variety is a breath of fresh air. After all, they also offer things like dark sea salt and caramel chocolate and lemon garlic herb aioli. Impressive.

Overall rating: 3.5/5

4. Jet Blue


Photo by Katherine Richter

Selection variety: Pretty darn good, in terms of appealing to a variety of palates. Passengers can buy a turkey croissant, a yogurt parfait, an antipasto plate, a quinoa salad or a roast beef sandwich.

Healthiness: The best we’ve seen yet. The lunch dishes come with fruit cups, not chips, on the side, and the yogurt parfait is actually Whole-Foods-worthy — it’s made with plain Greek yogurt, honey, banana slices and almond granola.

Creativity: There are wheat berries and honey-roasted carrots in the quinoa salad. I think that says it all.

Overall rating: 4.5/5

5. Virgin America


Photo by Julia Murphy

Selection variety: Virgin America boasts a chicken protein platter (chicken, hummus, pita, veggies and cheese), an artisan cheese box, a Spanish turkey prosciutto sandwich, a six-salad sampler and a Greek chickpea wrap.

Healthiness: If you want to eat fresh and nutritious food, then Virgin America is the airline for you. Everything on their menu qualifies as healthy, and they get bonus points for the salad sampler and the fact that their website lists all of the nutritional info.

Creativity: Everything is relative — compared to Southwest, Virgin America’s creativity is off the charts. Since they use ingredients like balsamic quince spread, baby arugula and camembert, I’d say it’s pretty good.

Overall rating: 4.5/5

6. United Airlines


Photo by Libby Perold

Selection variety: There are lots of ways you can switch it up on a United flight, like with Asian-style noodle salad, bistro scramble (scrambled eggs, potatoes, turkey sausage, asparagus and Swiss cheese) and chicken and asparagus risotto.

Healthiness: There are “smart choices” on the menu, like hard-boiled eggs, fruit, hummus, almonds, nut butter and dried fruit, but they’re not the same choices we’d make if we were voting solely with our taste buds.

Creativity: The United chefs have done a good job with producing some restaurant-worthy food (see the noodle salad and risotto) but in order to truly excel, they’d need to make their healthy meals more interesting.

Overall rating: 4/5

Next time you’re trying to decide which airline to use, forget about price, reputation, safety or schedule — it’s all about the food, obviously. As we’ve seen, the right question is not “Why is plane food so bad?” but “Why are you eating peanuts when you could be eating prosciutto?” Enjoy your flight, and thank you for flying Spoon.